The only means of communication at the sago mine was traditional hardwired telecommunications, stated a Jan. 11, 2006, article in The Chicago Tribune. The story, which described the West Virginia mining tragedy that claimed the lives of 11 miners, suggested that wireless communication devices could have helped with rescue efforts. Wireless communication devices could have allowed investigators to pinpoint the location of the miners quicker and with increased accuracy.

“If the trapped miners had wireless communication devices, it would have been possible to tell them of a safe way out,” the article stated.

Across the country, regardless of the vertical market, wireless continues to take its rightful place in global communications. At Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles, the facilities manager set up wireless access control systems for a recent movie production. The studio rented space outside of studio grounds and technicians installed wireless access modular locksets on suite doors where editing took place. When the movie is finished, Paramount will redeploy the locks elsewhere.

Schools and public facilities are embracing the virtues of wireless technology as well. At Mississippi State University, some 350 wireless locks were installed at a new residence hall, and more are on order. Also expanding its wireless access network is the University of New Hampshire. Three years ago, wireless locks were an integral part of its security system at Mills Hall, where the university saved more than $50,000 on a 40-door wireless project (compared with hardwired alternatives). Now, the university wants to repeat its experience at its new residence hall that is currently under construction.

In Hermiston, Ore., farmers use laptops to turn irrigation sprinklers on or off, monitor crop moisture, tap into the news and read e-mail—all from their trucks or while working in the field. Billed as the world’s largest wireless hot spot, this wireless fidelity (Wi-Fi) cloud stretches over 700 square miles. Time and again, wireless continues to show it has what it takes to be a big player in the communications arena.

In the business sector, wireless networking must be safe and secure to protect sensitive data, personnel records and other information. Concerns over wireless security, especially on an enterprise-wide network, seemed to plague the technology in the beginning.

Now, security in the form of encryption, firewalls and layered levels of intrusion detection protect the network and have allayed most fears. Speed and reliability concerns even haunted one of the standards in LAN networking, 802.11s.

This issue, too, was recently addressed. A high-speed wireless network protocol, 802.11n, launched late in 2005. It transfers data at 125 megabits per second, compared to the 5 megabits per second typically seen with the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard.

Moving forward

Wireless continues to evolve. Mesh networks are another recent entrant to the commercial wireless market. Mesh network technology allows end-users to extend their wireless LAN to a larger geographic area.

With the technology, wireless mesh networks provide access points, commonly referred to as nodes, to route traffic to one another instead of through cable. These access points are somewhat expensive, but in reality, it may cost even more to run information transport cabling to every access point, especially in a large campus environment with multiple wireless locations.

With a mesh network, the user can easily deploy an all-wireless system, using the existing Ethernet on the backbone, unrestrained from physical or geographical restrictions.

As radio frequency devices become more reliable and promote mobility, new applications continue to emerge. According to In-Stat, a Scottsdale, Ariz., market research company, fixed wireless telemetry applications could exceed the wireless voice market in the near future.

“The prospect for safety and security applications are the brightest,” said Bill Hughes, In-Stat principal analyst. “Heightened awareness of the need for security, money from the Department of Homeland Security and the perception of wireless technology as a good way to increase reliability will have this segment growing faster than historical rates.”

Hughes said that there are many valuable applications for wireless for commercial and government organizations.

“Wireless can be much more economical than running wires, the solution that usually comes to mind first. Two areas that stand out as fast growing are meter reading and public safety,” he said.

Tags and chips

Radio frequency identification (RFID) tags are also poised to become the most widespread used type of wireless. In-Stat further reports revenues from RFID tags will rise from $300 million in 2004 to $2.8 billion in 2009. The biggest segment, according to the firm, will be in the carton and supply chain. The second largest market for RFID is consumer products, although concerns over the privacy of individuals and their buying habits seems to still be an overriding factor in adoption by some.

In animal husbandry and other farming applications, RFID systems are managing livestock and animal products as well as for pets. Wireless tracking is another explosive growth area. Wireless surveillance over the Internet is also growing exponentially.

Wireless has moved beyond a mend-and-patch solution where it is used sporadically in an installation. Now, it is the entire installation and integrated readily with other hardware and software for a total systems approach. But the real beauty lies in the fact that it is much more cost effective to create a wireless project than hardwiring.

According to Lester LaPierre, marketing manager, IngersollRand Security Technologies, Schlage Wireless Access, West Chicago, Ill., wireless is moving beyond single-niche and retrofit applications to entire solutions. When looking at the cost of hardwiring buildings and devices versus installing wireless access control, radio frequency holds a definite cost advantage, especially when it comes to figuring in labor costs, LaPierre said.

“Even in new construction, end-users are going all wireless in many instances,” he continued. “A typical, hardwired card-access system can run anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 per door, including locksmiths and other labor. With wireless, it’s not uncommon to save 20 to 30 percent or more off that.

Concerns over security have been addressed by manufacturers with methods such as encryption and other forms of transmitting secure communications.

These are now part of the standard package. LaPierre said that Schlage wireless systems operate over Spread Spectrum with a 128-bit encryption algorithm. Spread Spectrum operates in the 900 MHz frequency and was originally developed for secured government transmissions. It securely spreads data over multiple frequencies simultaneously.

A feature called dynamic channel switching avoids interference by changing frequencies to provide reliable communications. Spread Spectrum also avoids possible paths of interference, intuitively selecting the most reliable and secure path of operation.

Perfect pairing

Wireless works alongside other technologies in a hybrid configuration that also helps extend its applicability. Today, in the most effective type of operations, it complements fiber optics, cellular, unshielded twisted pair, coaxial cable and now, more than ever, the Internet.

Depending on the installation, you can mix multiple technologies effectively, said Vic Milani, GE Infrastructure Security, director of Fiber Products, Fiber Options, Newtown, Conn. Milani said wireless is one form of connectivity and it is possible to mix it with other technologies, including fiber optics.

“It is possible to use multiple technologies to get signals from point A to point B and this application does occur more times than you may think,” Milani said. “There may be applications such as video surveillance when you can’t install fiber optics or coaxial cable across a roadway, that’s the perfect time to use wireless. In municipalities or other locations where you don’t have the right of way or the ability to put fiber, twisted pair or coaxial in place, you would want to use some other form or connectivity.”

He added that a current standard defines specification parameters for video and audio connectivity: EIA 250C, Electrical Performance for Television Transmission Systems.

Encouraging global growth

Wireless is a portable, robust and secured form of communications and provides connectivity to a host of systems, services and devices. There is so much that can be done with this type of technology and new applications in all types of markets continue to emerge. Study after study purports the rise of wireless technology including the Internet, cellular and much more.

But, the real beauty of wireless lies not only in the wide range of applications, but in its cost-savings verses digging, trenching and running traditional hardwired means of communications. The deployment of wireless continues to foster a mobile society in which location creates no barrier. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.